Greek nudes- the naked body in marble and bronze


For Greek athletes, nudity was a norm. The Olympics bought together athletes competing naked in almost all disciplines from all parts of Greece. The word Gymnasium its self translates as ‘a place to train naked’.

These practices, cemented in Greek art works featured in an exhibition entitled “Defining the body in ancient Greek art” at the British Museum.

The exhibition its self explores the nude form, so much so that as you enter the exhibition; you are greeted by the marble backside of Aphrodite. The sculpture’s tiny plaque describes how typically, women were portrayed as “wild and passionate, and posed a threat to the stability of male society, so the female body had to be covered, contained and controlled” until the portrayal of the Goddess Aphrodite in the 4th Century.

Yet interestingly, the clothes worn by the women in these ‘clothed’ pieces are artfully draped sheer fabrics, carefully following the lines of the female form. In this way there is as much revealed as attempt to conceal as the flimsy fabrics press on the breasts and abdomen of the subjects. In many ways this has obvious linkage with pornographic films and the modern appropriation of sheer and mesh fabric as erotic. It seems evident that in cases where the skin is translucently masked that whilst a reaction to clothed individuals is the same on the surface, there are inescapable erotic undertones.

The sculptures in general throughout the exhibitions demonstrated the Greeks’ ideal male and female forms (or male/female as there was a hermaphrodite present). This comes back to the presence of nudity in athletics, as it would obviously demonstrate the body in its entire and heavily edited muscular form. However, this is not the only reason. Arieti describes how the Greeks felt “that the mind ought to control the body was a pervasive Greek ideal… control and decorum was to be expected of those participating in athletic contests. They were to observe the calm composure exemplified in athletic sculpture” (1975:435). Therefore, if an athlete became sexually aroused in any way it would have been apparent to all the spectators.This display of moral control and authority was of course heightened by the fact that they “were the only people to compete naked” and as a consequence they could well believe they were the only people capable of such self-control” (Arieti 1975:436).

Arieti, J. (1975). Nudity in Greek Athletics. The Classical World, 68(7), p.431.

Artist of the Week


Rhiannon Schneiderman‘s self-portrait series Lady Manes is a brilliant illustration of my previous post. A tongue-in-cheek set of images where the focus is on various stylized “manes”. Schniderman argues that “A ‘Lady Mane’ is just a somewhat empowering pseudonym for a bunch of pubes, a “bush,” your “hair down there”… And that’s what the series was about for me: empowerment”.

Rhiannon Schneiderman Photography

Rhiannon Schneiderman Photography

Thus again we can adjust our vision to notice a further example of how we may shape our bodies through constructs within the world and as a consequence attempt to construct the world through our bodies in turn.

Curl power: Pubes and Nudes


An interesting question I felt should be addressed by my ramblings on the nude is that of body hair. It seems particularly in the case of pubic hair, that hair can be just as much a social skin as the skin it covers in that its removal or cultivation speaks much to society about the individual it resides (or doesn’t reside) upon.

Hair removal is a widespread practice and has been consistently put down in the West to the aesthetics of pornography. In pornographic photos and films many critics have argues that the choice to remove both male and female pubic hair been instrumental in resetting the “norms” of bodily appearance in an attempt to better display sex without all that pesky hair in the way. I would argue that this answer is perhaps part of the reason but is not in any way absolute.

Victoria Tecca cites Leach in her discussion of political hair who theorises that

Unrestrained sexuality = long hair

Restricted sexuality = short hair, partially shaven head, or tightly bound hair

Celibacy = closely shaven head

Yet it seems interesting that in the case of women in particular (although male grooming trends are becoming increasingly normalised) this formula would be reversed and closely shaven pubic hair would indicate an overt sexuality.

Toerien and Wilkinson argue, “The hairlessness norm powerfully endorses the assumption that a woman’s body is unacceptable if unaltered (2003:333). They also rightly point out that hair removal is also importantly not something modern nor purely Western as “accounts of women’s hair removal come from ancient times and diverse cultures, including ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Tobriand Islands, Uganda, South America and Turkey (2003:333).

The renaissance period provides evidence for hair removal in its paintings such as the “The Birth of Venus” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (below). Kay Larson makes the interesting point that in contrast, Lee Friedlander’s work (see top image) sets off “fascinating social alarms” in his proud display of body hair. For Larson and for myself these images allow “him to sat something new on the exhausted topic of the nude which has always been hairless, in art and photography” (1991:54). She suggests that depilation in art and photography particularly renaissance art is simply because “hair is a reminder of both her flesh-and-blood corporeality and individuality” (1991:54). Thus to have a hairless Venus is to have a true goddess, as a consequence, to become goddess-like, one must be hairless.



A 1532 book of secrets gives this concerning recipe:

How to Remove or Lose Hair from Anywhere on the Body

Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.

This simply denotes the practice of hair removal as something of the norm long before Internet pornography. The perceived need to alter the body is something that I don’t believe will ever disappear. In the case of pubic hair, an individuals choice in grooming is undeniably culturally driven and whether removal or growth denotes conformity or transgression, it seems the humble muff has a lot to speak for.

Burke, j. (2012). Did renaissance women remove their body hair?. [online] Jill Burke’s Blog. Available at: [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015].

Larson, K. (1991). The Naked Truth?. New York Times.

Leach, E. (1958). Magical Hair. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 88(2), p.147.

Toerien, M. and Wilkinson, S. (2003). Gender and body hair: constructing the feminine woman. Women’s Studies International Forum, 26(4), pp.333-344.

Nude Art, Female artists and Guerrilla Girls


Following from one female movement to another, The Guerrilla Girls are a humorous and powerful movement for gender equality producing posters, stickers, books, and actively protesting to expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large. They are particularly recognisable in their gorilla masks asking viewers to focus on the issues at hand rather than the individual campaigners.

For more information on their art works and latest exhibition please read more at this fabulous blog by Lucinda Riding.

In this post, however, my particular interest in their campaign came from a visit to the Disobedient Objects exhibition at the V&A that had the above image on display. The image its self originates as a response to an exhibition in MOMA in 1948 titled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture.The exhibition its self was a display of the most current and significant pieces of contemporary art, yet as explained by the Guerrilla Girls, “Out of 169 artists, only 13 were women. All the artists were white, either from Europe or the US. That was bad enough, but the curator, Kynaston McShine, said any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink “his” career”.

This image was a response to this overt sexism regarding women and the nude form in contemporary art. Following this, the below image was produced as a later response to the contemporary music industry and in particular Robin Thicke’s video for his single “Blurred Lines”.


These images are undoubtedly powerful, in this case using the symbol of the nude body to refer to the transgressive power of the group.

An interesting comment found on their website is one I will finish this post with…

“If a masterpiece can only be made by a master and a master is defined as “a man having control or authority,” you can see what we’re up against”

Guerrilla Girls

The story of the Female Nipple

img_0954 This mythical thing of fantasy has been overtly dramatised in mainstream media, hearsay and particularly western popular cultures. So much so that I would argue that the misinformed critics of campaigns such as Free The Nipple seem to have a lot to answer for. Miller discusses the phenomenon of the female nipple in regards to their overt sexualisation. Whilst the female nipple may play a part in sexual pleasure (and can bring women to climax in some cases), this is not their singular function. As soon as this becomes their mainstream association however, the possibility of displaying a nipple in breastfeeding becomes instantly problematic. It is my opinion that women shouldn’t be punished for a multi-functioning area of skin and should not feel ashamed to breastfeed their children in public. The legs and the neck are also associated with enhancing sexual pleasure, yet there isn’t such an outcry when women reveal a cheeky bit of shin in public. I would argue in this case that if nipples were on view in situations outside of sex, they may lose some of their hyper-sexualised allure.

To return to the critics, Kevin Tracy argues that

“this “Free The Nipple” thing and modern feminism in general is that it’s not empowering women at all.  In fact, as I’ve eluded to above, it’s giving teenage boys and perverted men EXACTLY what they want.  “Sexually liberated women” means that it’s easier for a guy to get laid with no consequences or serious commitment”.

I struggle with where to begin in terms of what is wrong about this argument and considering his later statement,

“This isn’t feminism, this is making women exactly what men want them to be.  Sexual objects

as a woman and in Kevin’s eyes, a sexual object, I shouldn’t really have anything to say. However I regret to inform you Mr Tracy, I do. There are clear cases that where “breasts are perceived as having a feeding function above a sexual role” this overt sexualisation and consequential shaming is simply not there. Miller argues that “the dissociation of nudity, breasts, and sexuality is especially true of prewar Japan, where mothers in the countryside customarily breast-fed infants in public” (2003:275). Similarly, “according to Masaichi Nomura, nudity itself was not considered erotic until contact with the West, and only as the habit of wearing more clothes spread did the concealed body became an object of desire” (Miller, 2003:275). Therefore it is not to say that the nipple MUST be sexual but that it SHOULD be something free of shame. To return to the campaign Tracy mentions is his regrettably misinformed article, Free The Nipple is just one example of the power of the body. This campaign is both a film and an equality movement standing against female oppression and censorship. This is something considered by Masquelier who argues that nudity is a key way of “flouting the sartorial signs of status and respectability are often significant and effective ways of resisting a dominant order” (2005:16).

Mulvey also considers that movements such as this have such power as “rather than arousing erotic feelings in their audiences, it is their ‘‘to-be-looked-at-ness’’ (1989:19). To refrain from a rant I will end here with this image that I stumbled upon… Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 17.30.51
Masquelier, A. (2006). Dirt, Undress, and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body’s Surface, American Culture, 29(4), pp.496-496.
Mulvey, Laura. 1989. ‘‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’’ In Visual and Other Pleasures, ed. Laura Mulvey, pp. 14–38. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Artist of the Week

ghostinthemachine-01_webTed Lawson blurs the lines between the nude body and our increasing integration with technology.

He pumps his own blood to be used as ink through an automated robotic painter to paint his own nude self portrait

I want to show the connection between our existential humanity and the ever-expanding technology that we use, are addicted to and rely on, as something deeply personal and very real.”

Lawson 2014


Lawson, T. (2014). robotic blood printer draws ted lawson’s nude self-portrait. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: [Accessed 19 Mar. 2015].

Modifying the nude: Part 3- “Bagel Heads”

bagel5 One of the reasons I actually came to study Anthropology was my fascination with strange body modifications that humans employ around the world. My favourite phenomenon I feel deserves a brief mentioning here, whilst it does not constitute nudity per-say, it does form a tangent from my recent discussions of plastic surgery. The phenomenon, as visible in the video below is a Trend that emerged in Japan of injecting saline solution into the forehead to create a temporary bagel-like shape. This  round profusion does eventually fade after about sixteen hours as your body absorbs the saline. It is seen as therefore more as something performative, almost an art form. It seems as a practice to have interesting links to processes of modernisation and Americanisation. At the same time it has interesting implications in terms of rebellion and forming a kind of self or identity that both strays from the norm and simultaneously allows acceptance into a smaller group.

Ryoichi “keroppy” Maeda as one of the pioneers of this trend and a globally famous body-modifying expert suggests that comparatively, there are practices that are far more extreme, for example, ear pointing, navel removal, amputation and Japanese traditional body suit tattoos. He argues that these are not attempts to follow western ideas or trends but ways of constantly competing and experimenting but at the same time being deeply part of a like-minded group or community.

Skin: Malanggan as the reconstituted, tattooed self

The exposure of the skin is in the literal sense nudity so skin is something of interest when considering the nude self.

Gell discusses Kuchler’s description of the Malanggan carvings from New Ireland that act as a kind of skin for a deceased individual and the importance of a notion of skin.

“Skin stands for the transactable person, the person divided up, recombined, and reconstituted” (1998:226)


To me this discussion of reconstitution, whilst not intentionally referencing the nude, seemed to me to have some resonance with my previous posts on plastic surgery and a reconstitution of skin. As a transactable force it also seems to have some links with instances of body part and organ trading and the potentialities existing to recreate the naked self.

“The carving as Kuchler implies is both a three dimensional, solid wooden container for ancestral life force but at the same time as an external surface, (a two-dimensional field) it is a parchment on which participants in the Malanggan ceremony inscribe their anticipated affinal alliances” (1998:226)

This again reminded me of modifications of the body and ideas of the “social skin” as tattoos allow the skin to become parchment and become a site in some cases to display affinal alliances.


Ref: Gell, A. (1998). Art and agency. Oxford: Clarendon Press.